Best Horror Comics
By Jake Hill
It’s the spookiest time of the year. Everyone has their favorite movies, and their favorite Halloween candies, but what about scary comics? Comic books can be just as scary as any other medium- even scarier! In such a wild and out there medium, horror comics sometimes verge on the truly bizarre. Here are some of the best scary comics of all time.
Locke & Key
A serious contender for my favorite comic of all time, Locke and Key is pretty scary. The story is about the Locke family, after the brutal murder of the family patriarch. Mother Nina, takes her three kids, Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, to the old family home in Massachusetts, Keyhouse. On their first day in the house, Bode discovers a freaky door, a door that when unlocked with an ominous key, can turn anyone who walks through it into a ghost. In fact, the house is full of strange doors and magical keys. But there’s a terrifying (or beautiful?) something living in the well behind the house, which may be connected to murders going back to the 1980s, or maybe the Revolutionary War.
Sometimes a comic uses the trappings of horror rather than trying to scare in its own right. In Hack/Slash Cassie Hack is a scantily clad goth final girl, who puts down nigh immortal monsters called Slashers. Her first fight was with her resurrected mother, who came back as the vile Lunch Lady. Hack/Slash is fun for anyone who likes a particular kind of scary movie, but its staying power is in its ability to weave a surprisingly consistent mythology, and a brilliant supporting cast.
One of the longest running comics ever, Hellblazer is the story of occult detective and all-around arsehole John Constantine. Nowadays, lots of people think about ‘ole Johnny as a supernatural avenger, but in his original series he barely made it out alive of hundreds of evil schemes by demons, angels, monsters, vampires, and secret societies. There are too many good scary Hellblazer stories to list, so just grab one that looks intriguing and go. “Dangerous Habits” is the classic. “Tainted Love” is pretty scary too. “The Family Man” grounds its villain in a seemingly regular serial killer. “In Another Part of Hell,” issue #84 has John face off with an evil promiscuous monkey. That’s right, a monkey. And it is scary as hell.
Scott Snyder has never flubbed an attempt at good old-fashioned horror, but Wytches is probably his best. Based in his own childhood experiences, it tells the story of Sailor Rook, a girl bullied so badly, she wished her bullies would just die. Of course her wish comes true, when long, pale fingers reach out of a knot in a nearby tree, grabbing her bully and eating her before her eyes. The fingers belong not to a witch, but one of the wytches; ancient and primal spirits, who seem to think that Sailor is pledged to them, whatever that means. Now her father, a writer named Charlie, will do anything he can to give his daughter a normal life. The less said the better, because hot damn this book is scary.
Afterlife With Archie
At the other end of the spectrum is an Archie book. Yes really. Afterlife With Archie takes all the familiar Riverdale characters and places them in a zombie apocalypse. What more do you need to know? It commits to its premise hard, and puts a lot of thought into how these classic characters would react to the zombie apocalypse. It’s obviously mostly Jughead’s fault. Betty and Veronica both prove to be consomate survivors, but with very different attitudes towards leadership. Archie himself has the skills to survive, but is such an everyman that the emotional toll quickly adds up. The book is drawn by Hellboy artist Francesco Francavilla, and that guy knows from horror.
Johnny the Homicidal Maniac
JTHM was a dark comedy book by Jhonen Vasquez, the dude behind Invader Zim. It’s completely demented. Johnny is obviously played for laughs, but the book never loses sight of how messed up and scary he is. There’s a wall in his basement he needs to keep painted with a fresh coat of human blood, which he can never let dry. That’s pretty scary, right? But you know what is even scarier? He may be right, and continuing to kill is the only thing keeping the world safe. The book dives deep into the twisted psyche of its main character and may repulse you as it makes you laugh.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are famous for their collaborations of crime comics, but in Fatale they turn to Lovecraftian Horror. Jo is a femme fatale who can bend men to her will with her voice. She’s also possibly immortal, and on the run from a tentacle-worshipping cult that wants to use her for… something bad. It’s a mystery full of twists and turns and perspective jumps, and one that has a satisfying and grisly conclusion.
More of an adventure/mystery/thriller with the trappings of horror, Nailbiter is about a town in Oregon that has raised more serial killers than any place on Earth. As the series continues, it follows a federal investigator, a local cop, a struggling teen, and one of the killers, all of whom want answers on what the hell is wrong with this town. The killers are appropriately colorful and gruesome, and the book excels at weaving a consistent mythology that never gets too sprawling.
Another great Scott Snyder horror book, American Vampire is often overlooked for how scary it can get. It posits that different countries have different types of vampires, and the vampires of the world have agreed that nobody wants to find out what the American breed would look like. But an accident turns Wild West outlaw Skinner Sweet into a rattlesnake-like bloodsucker, and he, in turn, turns a 1920s Hollywoodland hopeful Pearl Jones. The comic follows them through the 20th century as America grows and changes, but they do not.
A fun and short-lived series with a great premise: a medical procedural for monsters and black magic. Dr. Vincent Morrow and his assistant, Penny Dreadful practice supernatural medicine. Each story is like an episode of House, but instead of trying to figure out what disease plagues his patients, the titular Witch Doctor has to contend with demonic possession and ancient curses. It’s totally awesome!
Lasting only four issues, Ragemoor has unsettled me more than any other comic. Written and illustrated by the legendary Richard Corben, Ragemoor is as simple as horror gets. A madman wants to gift his mansion to an heir. It’s Victorian Horror at its most frightening, full of lost loves broken social rules, murderous monkeys, and a possibly living castle.